Pope never considered canceling delicate Lebanon visit due to Mideast tensions

September 14, 2012

(Pope Benedict XVI is welcomed upon his arrival at Beirut’s airport September 14, 2012. REUTERS/Osservatore Romano)

Pope Benedict’s visit to Lebanon ranked as potentially his most dangerous even before this week’s protests in the Middle East raised the stakes, but he said on Friday he never considered calling it off for safety reasons.

Syria’s civil war rages only 50 km (30 miles) east of Beirut and the Sunni-Shi’ite tensions it unleashed have sometimes spilled over the border to spark clashes that could upset the fragile peace Lebanon has had since its own war ended in 1990.

In addition, protests against a U.S.-made film Muslims say insults the Prophet Mohammad continued in Egypt and Yemen and spread to Malaysia, Bangladesh and Iraq. Islamist militants killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya in Benghazi on Thursday.

But Lebanon, despite its violent history, is a unique corner of the Arab world where many religious groups live in a shaky balance. The government and all the main groups supported the pope’s visit, mostly confined to Christian areas of Beirut and its surroundings.

“Nobody has advised me to cancel this voyage,” Benedict told journalists on the plane from Rome.

“I never thought of it because I know that the more complicated a situation becomes, the more necessary it is to send this signal of fraternity, encouragement and solidarity.”

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